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Education Without Limits

How COVID Taught Everyone to Value SEL and What This Means for Your Classroom

Age of Awareness, an educator-centered publication on Medium, recently released an essay within which Ivery del Campo argues that students actually have the capacity to learn more during a crisis.

Del Campo’s perspective is that of a college professor-turned-homeschooling parent in spring 2020, when COVID-19 officially took hold within the United States.

Within her essay, del Campo recognizes that orders to shelter in place have had negative outcomes including increases within parental burnout and domestic abuse. However, she also claims that they have given many students the ability to master “non-academic” skills that are nonetheless “crucial” to learning.

According to del Campo, these skills include:

  1. Learning and practicing empathy.

  2. Learning how to be adaptive.

  3. Learning how material conditions enable, or disable, learning.

As it turns out, del Campo is onto something. The skills she describes are actually integral to the practice of social emotional learning (SEL).

EWL educator and SEL specialist Grace Lazos says:

I define SEL by the practice of providing intentional time for students to consciously process their emotions and behavior, particularly in relation to their impact on others. [With SEL], it is integrated as a part of the school day, and lessons, that students consider behavioral norms, consider others' feelings, and build empathy through both independent and group activities.

While SEL has been integral to education throughout human history, its practice did not begin gaining widespread acceptance until the 1960s when Yale-based scholar James Comer launched an SEL-based program in New Haven, Connecticut. Comer analyzed the success of this program in a follow-up study published in 1988 by Scientific American.

Since then, SEL has gained popularity, and many states have even introduced standards for teaching SEL. However, unlike academic standards, SEL standards are optional and mostly viewed as a potential addition to traditional instruction, rather than as an essential building block to student success in any subject.

However, as del Campo notes in Age of Awareness, times are changing.

At EWL, we’re committed to facilitating SEL-based instruction. This has become apparent when mapping learning standards to create the educational ecosystem at the center of EducatorHQ, EWL’s still-developing tool for mapping curriculum.

SEL is also a consistent element of the curated programs we’ve included within our free resource library ResourceHQ. Some excellent resources designed primarily for building SEL are Start Empathy and Responsive Classroom. Meanwhile, a good example of an academic program that integrates SEL principles is Facing History and Ourselves.

If you’re not in the spot to delve into new learning programs right now, or to re-write your planned curriculum, don’t fret. There’s value in taking a slow, step-by-step approach by simply adding your state’s corresponding SEL standards to your existing lesson plans.

Keeping the utility of SEL in mind as you teach can also lead to you modeling SEL for your students, as well as relieving some pressure that comes with focusing intently on academics, especially in the wake of ongoing global disaster.

According to Lazos, SEL done well “normalizes talking about feelings explicitly and expressing emotions clearly so that others understand.” It doesn’t over emphasize positivity or demand that students remain “quiet and focused,” something Lazos calls “policing children's behavior and asking them to not react in ways that are normal for children.”

Lazos says:

Short term, SEL is great for relationship building. It shows students that teachers care about their feelings, and are paying attention to their behavior. Between students, it highlights similarities and differences in behavior and builds understanding of differences.

Long term, it lends itself well to a collaborative, respectful classroom and supports the facilitation of student-led learning.

As we continue to lead classrooms amid a global pandemic, the value of SEL becomes apparent.

Now more than ever, SEL’s utility goes beyond the classroom.

It’s not only a foundational element of learning academic concepts, it’s a core principle of working together to solve new problems, which will inevitably surface within the post-COVID world.


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